Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Pharma-care

Drug Companies Hire Troubled Doctors As Experts
Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of the companies' drugs.

But an investigation by ProPublica has uncovered hundreds of doctors receiving company payments who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.

To vet the industry's handpicked speakers, ProPublica created a comprehensive database that represents the most accessible accounting yet of payments to doctors. Compiled from disclosures by seven companies, the database covers $257.8 million in payouts since 2009 for speaking, consulting and other duties. The companies include Lilly, Cephalon, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck and Pfizer.

Although these companies have posted payments on their websites — some as a result of legal settlements — they make it difficult to spot trends or even learn who has earned the most. ProPublica combined the data and identified the highest-paid doctors, then checked their credentials and disciplinary records.

That is something not all companies do.

We're talking about big money. Just from these seven companies, they've paid out more than $257 million in the past 18 months, and remember not all of these companies have even disclosed their payments for that whole period of time, so it's likely going to be substantially more, just for these seven companies.

What do they get for it? They wouldn't be spending this kind of money if they weren't getting returns from the perspective of increasing their brand in the market, letting doctors know about it, encouraging them to prescribe it. They say that doctors' success at increasing prescriptions is not a means in which they're measured, but some of the lawsuits against the industry have said that prescriptions and return on investment absolutely play a role.

Over 17,000 US Doctors Paid By Drug Companies To Spread Their Message
Giving money to doctors in this way is not against the law. In fact, ProPublica admits that a strong relationship between doctors and companies that make medications can be good, and lead to innovation and better therapies.

However, according to studies, giving doctors payments and even small gifts can undermine their professional approach. A separate Consumer Reports poll revealed that 74% of the American public think doctors should not receive money from pharmaceutical companies which ask them to encourage their peers to prescribe certain drugs.

The authors of the report warn that the 17,000 figure could be significantly higher. The current total represents data on just 7 drug companies. Over 70 companies are keeping their cards close to their chest and not revealing their data.

There is much, much more to read and learn about in these two articles.

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